You can’t help smiling or being lulled into a comfortable sense of being entertained by this record. And I suppose that’s all it really set out to do in the first place.
This is the sound of a very good band, happy to please the listener and happy to make an attractive record – which is often not the easiest thing to pull off. Music to Shake n Shuffle To is charming and catty in equal measure, possessing a fine balance and sense of when to stop milking a particular subject: in fact pretty much you’d ever want in a pop record.
Starting with a couple of their recent singles, the LP sets a breezy tone: though it never gets smug at any point, despite the fact that there are more stylings and angles than you could shake a stick at. The vocals are clear, crisp and flirtatious throughout, always carrying a melody line you can hum, always looking to win you over with a whole host of witty tales. Despite the lack of ego and the effervescence of the song-craft you could in theory get pretty sick of all this whimsicality; just who uses the words “maid”, or “playground” in their lyrics without an Eric Idle style “knowing wink”? That’s what I’d like to know. Still, there’s something very, very confident and direct about their songs, which does allow you to cat aside your cynicism - even with the “doo-doo-doo” bits on Conversations With You When You’re Not There. Or even the “la la la” bits that make up Following the Wheel (Part IV).
It’s fair to say that Music to Shake n Shuffle To attempts to – and often emulates - the same “anything goes” charm of The Divine Comedy, or the Bonzos. Despite the odd quiet (and Bowie-esque) track like Blame In Campodia the music is tailor made for vaudeville or panto: Happy Clappy Doom Jazz, for example, is just waiting for the right audience to come along and squeal it back at the band. And the arrangements are incredibly sussed, seemingly Johnny 5th Wheel has an instrument or found sound to suit every occasion. At times (Daemon or the brilliant I’m Not West) the singer comes across as some foppish artist stranded at the provincial garden party, desperate for some kindred wallflower; and yes, despite the low grade whinging, it does work very well indeed. You can’t help smiling or being lulled into a comfortable sense of being entertained by this record. And I suppose that’s all it really set out to do in the first place. Top marks from teacher.